Does Pain and Swelling Indicate a Dental Emergency?

If your mouth or jaw is hurting, it might be a dental emergency. While light to moderate pain might be a symptom of a non-urgent issue, there are many cases where pain and swelling are major warning signs.

Is your pain a dental emergency?

For the tough person, ignoring pain may not be that difficult. However, there are certain conditions that you cannot overlook. Each of the conditions below is a dental emergency that may come with pain and swelling. Do not ignore these symptoms if they occur.


A hard fall can cause damage to the teeth, jaws or the soft tissue of the mouth. This damage can also happen from a blow to the mouth, a car accident or a sports injury. If you notice that any part of your mouth is painful and swollen due to trauma, you should check if any teeth are broken or cracked. A cracked tooth can be hard to detect, so touch each tooth to see if one if more painful than the rest. You should also look for any bleeding coming from the teeth or gums. A fractured tooth is a dental emergency, as is excessive bleeding. Anyone who experiences these symptoms should see an emergency dentist immediately.

Tooth decay

Advanced tooth decay can cause constant pain and swollen gums. It is always a good idea to treat tooth decay and cavities in their early stages. Since tooth decay is a bacterial attack on teeth, anyone with this problem will experience inflammation in the inner tooth. This infection will also cause tender gums. When the pain becomes impossible to ignore, you should see a dentist immediately. This may not be an immediate dental emergency, but the infection can lead to problems throughout your body.

A tooth abscess

One possible result of a bacterial infection in a tooth is a dental abscess. An abscess is a pocket of pus that forms when the bacteria reach the inner tooth. Some abscesses happen at the tip of the tooth, right next to a cavity or tooth fracture. Others happen at the base of the tooth, where the root sits in the gum. Abscesses cause symptoms like:
  • Constant, throbbing pain that may spread to the jaw and ear
  • A swollen face or cheek
  • Swollen lymph nodes
  • Sensitivity to heat, cold or pressure from chewing
If the abscess ruptures, the person will experience a sudden rush of pus from the tooth into the mouth, followed by reduced pain. An abscess can be life-threatening in some cases. You should see a dentist as soon as you notice the symptoms.

Advanced gum disease

An infection can attack the gums and cause gum disease. If left untreated, gum disease turns into periodontal disease, a widespread infection of the gum tissue that can also affect the jaws. Periodontal disease comes with pain, swelling, loose teeth, bleeding gums and swollen lymph nodes. If you ignore the signs of periodontal disease, it can cause the teeth to fall out.

TMJ pain

Some people experience pain in the joints that connect the upper and lower jaws. These are known as the temporomandibular joints (TMJ). TMJ pain starts in the muscles of the jaw and often spreads to form a migraine. The pain can interfere with your daily life. In some cases, the jaw can even stiffen to the point where it is hard to talk or eat. Other times, it may become dislocated. In these cases, it is a dental emergency.

Get urgent help for a dental emergency

The only effective way to deal with a dental emergency is to seek the help of a dentist. If you ever need to see a dentist in a hurry, visit our Swampscott office to get the help you need. Request an appointment here: or call Whiting Dental Arts at (781) 595-0596 for an appointment in our Swampscott office. Check out what others are saying about our dental services on Yelp: Emergency Dentist.

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